A true juggling virtuoso comes along only once or twice every century. The last one was Enrico Rastelli, who appeared in the 1920s. Rastelli made the Guinness Book of World Records by keeping 10 balls airborne, but found juggling them so mentally taxing that it's believed he nearly had a nervous breakdown. He practiced every waking moment. Anthony Gatto, juggling's latest genius, trains a mere 45 minutes a day. Anthony is cool, confident and graceful. He is also 13 years old.
Anthony is the enfant prodige of juggledom. Last month at the 39th annual convention of the International Jugglers Association, in San Jose, Calif., he finessed the competition with a transcendent display of the art of juggling. Anthony set nine records on opening night, orbiting more objects than NASA. He made juggling look as easy as falling off a unicycle, vanquishing his opposition in every category he entered: rings, balls, clubs. The other finalist in clubs kept seven aloft for about three seconds. Anthony held his in midair for nearly two minutes.
He then expanded the outer limits of juggling, putting eight clubs in flight. "I'll bet no one has even attempted eight clubs at this event before," gasped Bill Giduz, president of the 2,600-member IJA. "There are probably only three other people in the world who can juggle seven, and Anthony does it longer than any of them."
Anthony won the overall title at the IJA convention with a score of 94.83 out of a possible 100, more than 5 points higher than the previous best. "I'm astonished, astounded and humbled," said 43-year-old Bob Nickerson, whose forte is juggling three hatchets while delivering excruciating ax puns.
"He learns through his eyes," says Anthony's father, Nick, a former acrobat who is his trainer and chief cheerleader. "Anthony doesn't repeat routines a thousand times. We'll think of something and he'll just do it. He's like Mozart or Shakespeare: a natural."
A BRATTY KID LIVES HERE says the sign on Anthony's bedroom door at home in Ellicott City, Md. Though he's the only juggler ever to get scolded at the IJA convention for spitting a drink at his brother, Anthony is anything but bratty. "You'd think somebody like him would be conceited and stuff," says 12-year-old Oran Canfield, a five-ball juggler. "But he's not like that at all. He's really a cool guy."
He's also modest, polite and the owner of two mutts (Powder and Puff), an iguana (Dino), a cockatiel (Coco) and a parakeet (Seymour). "I used to have a guinea pig named Porkchop," Anthony says, "but he died in the car going through Death Valley." Anthony disclaims ownership of Charlie, the family chicken, because whenever he gets close, Charlie kicks him.
Anthony is crazy about computers and Chinese food, especially beef and broccoli. "I hate cabbage," he says. "I tried octopus and didn't like that either. Squid...ugghh! Slimy!" He rides his own dirt bike, skis and takes karate lessons. "I'm not going to put him in a glass jar," says his mother, Barbara, who also has three older sons and a daughter. "With Anthony, you have to be ageless. You have to like to hike and fish, and you can't be afraid of snakes or lizards. I guess it's good I had three boys before him or I'd be totally shot by now."
For a kid who commands substantially more than $1,000 a gig, Anthony is pretty much unspoiled. "You don't have five kids and spoil one," says Barbara. "I don't have the patience. You answer me fresh the first time, and the second time, whack)"
Barbara was a trapeze artist until knee trouble did her in. She has had seven operations. Now she "juggles Anthony's books." She has packed up the house in Ellicott City to move to Las Vegas, where Anthony is under contract to Bally's Las Vegas Hotel. "Anthony has given up nothing to pursue his career," says Nick. "My wife and I have given up everything." By that, Nick means he's leaving his house, his tomato garden and his beloved Orioles. "But if Anthony says, 'Let's go home,' then that's the end of it. We'll go home the next day."